A View from the Pew: Devotions by Any Other Name

Pew_smLong before I find myself in a chair or pew on a Sunday morning, preparations have been made for the corporate worship of God.

Musicians have learned music through hours of rehearsal. Ministers have prayerfully selected texts to be read responsively. An object lesson for children has been thought-out and supplies gathered. Corporate prayers have been considered and sometimes written. And of course, the pastor has diligently crafted a sermon that will inform, challenge, and inspire.

We all know intuitively that work goes into worship, but what about the preparation required of the laity? What must you and I do to get ready for worship on a weekly basis? Other than brushing our teeth, applying a modicum of pomade to our scalp and a sprinkling of perfume to our skin or finding the cleanest, least wrinkled outfit from our closet, what is required of us?

Our worship on Sunday or even midweek begins with the time we invest throughout the week in reading Scripture, reflecting on what we have read, and praying. Then and only then are we prepared to do the work of worshipping our God.

When I was kid growing up in a pastor’s home, we called this preparation “devotions.” This spiritual discipline has been called by many names since, and each name takes on a subtle nuance, influencing what the daily habit of Bible reading and prayer means to my life.

By the time I got to college, I heard “devotions” called a “Quiet Time” or “QT” for short. The implication was that one was still and silent before God. Trying to read the Bible and pray in a dorm full of boisterous young men, though, was often anything but quiet.

Then, for a period, I heard it called “Time Alone with God,” or, again with an abbreviation, “TAWG.” The emphasis in this label is “Alone.” To me, the implication is that you sequestered yourself and took time to be with God without necessarily journaling or doing anything else.

As I engaged with new churches and other ministries, I began to hear the phrase “Daily Bible Reading” with more frequency. This did not adequately communicate the element of prayer to me and felt more like one of those “read the Bible through in a year” challenges I’ve done on occasion. It was personally very beneficial but not as relational.

After a while I heard the language shift in Christian culture to “Personal Bible Study.” To be fair, I don’t think this is the same discipline. I think daily devotions and Bible study are not the same thing, and a healthy Christian lifestyle requires both. When I am taking time each morning tending my relationship with God, I am not necessarily studying. Anyone who has ever progressed academically beyond kindergarten knows inherently the work involved in study.

In drawing up my Stephen Covey-esque weekly plan, I have lately gravitated toward calling it “Reading and Reflection.” This habit definitely includes the Bible and prayer, but it also includes some time to just be silent and listen. Only lately in my spiritual development have I made time for listening. My head is too often filled with the noise of my life, but if I give it time and concentrate, God will bring the words of Scripture back to me in profound ways.

Followers of my New South Essays blog will know of my somewhat recent affinity for consuming podcasts. In one episode of “This American Life”, a Midwestern housewife, making recordings of herself for her son who was away in California at medical school, referred to her daily devotions as “My Worship.”

It sounded odd to my ear to hear the practice referred to in that way. I tend to associate the word “worship” with the corporate act rather than the individual. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. How much healthier would my state of mind be if I took time to acknowledge God’s goodness on a daily basis rather than rehash my latest list of demands or struggles or plow through dense Bible passages trying to pull an application.

So what about that time each week when we gather as a group for worship? How often do you arrive anticipating an encounter with the risen Christ? What offering of worship to God have you prepared throughout the week?

Whatever you call it, these spiritual disciplines are essential in making the most of your time in worship on Sunday. We can’t live by bread alone, and prayers uttered in the privacy of our closets can better attune our hearts to God for when we join our voices with others in praise.

What do you call your devotions? Leave a comment below and share the practices that you find meaningful and what you call them. Thanks!

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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